My mother-in-law is a brilliant (but retired) contemporary historian. When she speaks, I listen – and while America distracted much of the global news cycle this summer with Donald Trump’s first few months in office, important local news was also happening in Italy, not to be left undiscussed.
In the past few years there has been an influx of migrants in Italy, largely owing to refugee crisis in bordering territories in the Middle East and Africa, and how to manage the influx of these refugees is a divisive national topic. Last summer, I wrote about this here on ATPB, moved by an act of kindness between strangers in La Spezia. To my great shock, in discussion with my mother-in-law a few months ago, she made reference to the migrant crisis creating the disastrous consequence of a modern day slave trade. I had been completely ignorant to this factor, and listened intently to her explanation of events.
Last week, CNN brought the modern slave trade into the global conversation when their correspondents witnessed the auction of a dozen migrant men in Libya, some for as little as $400. The story and accompanying photos are repulsive and horrific, but an absolute necessity to review to qualify as a humanitarian on this planet. However upsetting the documentation may be, we all must educate ourselves if we are to use our power.
The refugees and migrants, mostly from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Zambia, Senegal, Gambia and Sudan are smuggled into Libya by human traffickers on the promise of reaching Europe. Libya is the main gateway for people attempting to reach Europe by sea, with more than 150,000 people making the deadly crossing in each of the past three years. (Al Jazeera)
As I write this I am at a posh bar in Milan center city, sipping on an almond cappuccino. An African gentleman walked in a moment ago and approached the cashier. He made eye contact with me, and, after asking if I spoke English, asked if I would help him buy some milk. The staff became touchy – their priority is to preserve their patrons luxury experience, and they move in to shield me from the disturbance of beggars. So much of the world these days seems to focus on out of sight, out of mind.
“Latte per mio bambino,” read the note he held with his ID card – “milk for my baby”. I gave the waiter some money for the man and asked him to direct him to the grocery store down the street.
I was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1976, a very different time politically and socially for the country. To make a better life for her daughter, my mother left me with the aunt that raised her to pursue higher education in the United States. In order to support herself and me and her aunt, she worked diligently while also attending college, and sacrificed everything she could so that she could send home as much money as possible. Due to her sacrifices, I was able to enroll in a private Jamaican school that was attended by all of the children of wealthy Jamaicans – I went to school with some of Bob Marley’s children.
Despite its privileged halls, the school (which still stands) is located in a rough neighborhood. And in the 1980’s, walking to school every day meant being subject to roadside checks by armed military sources. Despite this very third world experience, what waited on the other side was the assurance of happiness and calm – peace.
Whatever the state of systemic and social racism in the U.S. at the time, my mother came to the U.S. legally and of her own volition to build a better life. She chose to leave me with family in order to put me less at risk while she built that life. We were poor, but rich in determination and ambition. She knew my life would be safe and loving at home. This is not the case for most of the migrants that are presently fleeing countries like Libya, and I have never realized what a privilege these elements of my life were.
Now, I am a mother myself, and understand that we all – under any circumstances – want to build a better life for our children, whatever it takes. But imagine how desperate you must be to agree to pay your life’s savings, your family’s savings, to board an illegal boat bound for a place you’ve never even visited. Imagine how dire the situation must be in your home country to take that risk. Imagine what they are running from. And then imagine taking that risk only to be tricked into human trafficking and slavery.
As citizens of the world, we take so much advantage of our mobility and connectedness to travel, discover, and love. I myself move with ease to new parts of the globe literally every year, and it is my privilege and pleasure to be able to explore and discover as much as I do. But it is our duty and responsibility, as citizens that take advantage of all of the amazing things in this world, to also rise to the defense of those who cannot. If we are global citizens, so are they.
Bustle.com just published a fantastic piece outlining how to help stop the Libyan slave trade here. Please read it and contribute. Please join me in standing up for these people who truly have no voice, no options, and no future unless we help create it for them. When atrocities like these come to light, we have only one choice, and that is to join together to end them for good.